Harper Road Woman
It seems that London has been an ethnically diverse city right from its very beginnings. In 2015, the Museum of London put on display a group of skeletons from the Roman City whose teeth, bones and DNA experts had recently analyzed. Isotopes created by diet revealed fascinating information about the subject’s origins and where they had lived during their lives. One, a fourteen-year-old, blue-eyed girl had lived in London for the last four years of her life- but had been born in North Africa. A male with fatal head injuries and other healed wounds on his bones may have been a gladiator who originated from Eastern Europe and the near east.
One of the skeletons, however, was British born. The experts had no doubt that Harper Road Woman as she was known was that a woman. Her pelvis and skull were the right size and shape, and her grave goods were feminine: jewelry and a bronze mirror of such good quality that it was clear Harper Road Woman was of high status. She was between 26 and 35 when she died, and her DNA revealed that she had brown eyes and hair. However, although she appeared physically female, Harper Road Woman had male chromosomes.
Harper Road woman was suffering from Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. This disease means that although an individual appears one sex, genetically they are another. Some individuals display no outward signs of their genetic sex, while others have genitalia somewhere between male and female. The fact that Harper Road Woman was buried with female grave goods suggests that her society saw her as a woman. The only outward sign of her syndrome would have been a lack of periods and an inability to have children.
However, it is possible that Harper Road woman did display ambiguous genitalia but was still accepted and honored in her society. Many ancient cultures have recognized the possibility of duel sex individuals. To the Native American’s they were “two-spirited people.” The Persians also accorded the androgynous an honored and role place in their society. However, crucial to Harper Road woman was the fact that the Greeks also accepted the notion of dual sexuality; with legends telling how early man began as one sex. Roman society undoubtedly would have absorbed this idea, as it did so much of Greek culture.
This precedent meant that Harper Road Woman would have been acceptable within Roman society- and perhaps accorded greater honor because of it. She is the first transsexual to be identified by archaeology. However, more importantly, she is a reminder that human gender and sexuality is not black or white.
Science has not yet revealed everything about the next skeleton’s life. However, his death is a murder mystery.